Article Date: 6/1/2003

o.d. to o.d.
Adding New Equipment
Making the decision to bring new equipment into your office is a big one. Just be sure you consider the following.
BY WALTER D. WEST, O.D., F.A.A.O., Chief Optometric Editor

I've always been a proponent of adding new technology to practices. I recommend new equipment to increase direct and indirect profitability, reduce workload, increase the ability to delegate additional data gathering to appropriately trained staff, as well as to increase your clinical capacity. But above all, I'm a proponent of due diligence from a management standpoint.

Balancing three business skills

Last month I spoke of the three primary areas of skill (entrepreneurial, managerial and technical) that small business owners in optometry need to be aware of. To be successful in the business of optometry, there needs to be a balance between these areas and a prioritization of everything accomplished in each of these areas.

Technical. This is perhaps the most common denominator for optometrists across the United States. The bulk of what we learned in our professional training was relative to or closely associated with a piece of equipment used to gather data.

Think about the 21-point exam that most of us learned -- the entire process revolved around the spinning of dials, the turning of knobs and the misguided belief that being successful in optometry relied on our ability to be the best dial spinner and knob twister in our geographic market area. (Not to discount the ability to be in full command of the technical equipment in our offices). Unfortunately, many optometrists see the technical data gathering process as something that they should be completely responsible for and believe that their gathering of the data is part and parcel to the ultimate success of their practice (see best dial spinner and knob twister mentioned above).

Many optometrists are trying to heal ailing practices, regain profits lost to poor choices in participation in managed care plans, and overcome the effects of poor cash management by trying to make the right decision about the next piece of equipment to buy. In fact, new equipment can provide a great opportunity to expand the scope of a practice as well as increase profitability along the way -- but only when approached in the proper manner.

Plan rationally for equipment

In adding new equipment to your practice, you need to have a rational plan for increasing the scope of practice. Pay attention not only to the increased opportunity to serve the existing patient base, but also consider the ability to draw new patients to the practice as well. Unfortunately, many practitioners believe that just because they own or are making payments on a new piece of equipment, that patients will beat a path to their door. They believe that now that they have the practice management software, their practice will magically be organized or that because they now have an additional employee, office efficiency will simultaneously be enhanced. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Management. Before you even think about new equipment, upgraded software or additional employees, you must employ your management skills to assess the possible advantages of adding the equipment relative to the cost of doing so. Management skills are also important in determining how you'll market the new technology to your existing patient base and to potential new patients in the geographic area.

Along with this comes the consideration of the cost for promoting the new technology, as well as who in the practice will learn to operate the new equipment, and whether it will result in cost savings in wages or require additional staff. As with any management decision, you need to analyze your risks and rewards well in advance of any equipment purchase.

Entrepreneurial. As to this aspect of adding equipment to your practice, the equipment manufacturers have already done that for you in many ways. With the vast amount of equipment development in the optical industry, great opportunities can increase patient flow and profitability, but not until you accept your responsibility as a manager.


Optometric Management, Issue: June 2003